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Does Canada’s assisted dying law need change? Federal leaders weigh in

Federal leaders weighed in on Canada’s medically assisted dying legislation on Wednesday, disagreeing on whether the law should be changed.

The discussion came up during the French-language leadership debate, weeks after a ruling by the Quebec Superior Court found that part of the country’s law is “unconstitutional.”

Quebec Justice Christine Baudouin ruled both the province’s and country’s laws on assisted dying were too restrictive and, therefore, discriminated against some who sought the procedure. She took aim at the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” before someone can be eligible for assisted death.

READ MORE: Quebec court hands down ‘robust rejection’ of assisted dying criteria. Here’s what to know

The condition has prevented some people from accessing the end-of-life procedure. She also invalidated a section of the Quebec law that says people must “be at the end of life.”

Following the debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters he would appeal the ruling so that the Supreme Court of Canada could provide certainty.

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He said politicians all come to this issue with “a great degree of goodwill,” trying to form laws that are in line with court rulings but also protect vulnerable Canadians.

“I believe that the best thing to do is to get certainty so I would appeal to the Supreme Court so we can get the boundaries within which Parliament can legislate,” he said.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer says Conservative government would appeal medically-assisted dying court decision
Federal Election 2019: Scheer says Conservative government would appeal medically-assisted dying court decision

Scheer voted against the Liberal law that is currently in place.

However, Scheer’s promise to appeal the ruling is complicated by the deadline to appeal — which will have passed by the time Parliament reconvenes after the Oct. 21 election.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Thursday that a re-elected Liberal government would expand the legislation to bring the law into line with the court ruling.

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says he won’t appeal medically-assisted dying court decision
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says he won’t appeal medically-assisted dying court decision

He told reporters that when the legislation was introduced three years ago, he knew various courts would rule on it and that Canadians’ views on the subject would evolve.

“When it comes to an issue that is so important, so delicate, so difficult for so many families, the government needs to make sure we’re getting the balance right,” Trudeau said.

READ MORE: Quebec judge invalidates parts of provincial, federal laws for medical aid in dying

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New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh has been vocal in his disapproval of the current law. He said on Wednesday that the Quebec ruling is “yet another example” of how the law is flawed.

“The NDP will continue fighting for a [medical assistance in dying] legislation that respects charter rights and ensures Canadians can die with dignity, compassion and fairness and without excessive suffering,” he said.

Singh specified how exactly they would amend the law.

Meanwhile, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet has said Quebec’s court was clear in the ruling and steps should be taken accordingly.

In an email to Global News, Green Party spokesman John Bennett said the party would push to amend the law in light of the Quebec ruling.

“This includes allowing advance directives and guaranteeing the right to draw up a ‘living will’ that gives individuals the power to limit or refuse medical intervention and treatment,” Bennett wrote.

Toronto woman’s dying wish is to raise awareness about medical assistance in dying
Toronto woman’s dying wish is to raise awareness about medical assistance in dying

Canada’s assisted dying legislation has faced criticism since it was created, particularly over its “reasonably foreseeable” clause. The law is facing a similar court challenge from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

The “reasonably foreseeable” requirement does not include specifics on time; instead, Health Canada describes it as “a period of time that is not too distant.”

“You do not need to have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” according to Health Canada.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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